Harvard Book Store, digital HKS, and the MIT Center for Civic Media are honored to welcome Virginia Eubanks, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany SUNY, for a discussion of her latest book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. She will be joined in conversation by Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT.
Virginia Eubanks is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is the author of Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor; Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age; and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Harper’s and Wired. For two decades, Eubanks has worked in community technology and economic justice movements. Today, she is a founding member of the Our Data Bodies Project and a Fellow at New America. She lives in Troy, NY.
Click here for the Harvard Book Store event page.
About Automating Inequality
The State of Indiana denies one million applications for healthcare, food stamps, and cash benefits in three years―because a new computer system interprets any mistake as “failure to cooperate.” In Los Angeles, an algorithm calculates the comparative vulnerability of tens of thousands of homeless people in order to prioritize them for an inadequate pool of housing resources. In Pittsburgh, a child welfare agency uses a statistical model to try to predict which children might be future victims of abuse or neglect.
Since the dawn of the digital age, decision-making in finance, employment, politics, health, and human services has undergone a revolutionary change. Today, automated systems―rather than humans―control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, and who is investigated for fraud. While we all live under this new regime of data, the most invasive and punitive systems are aimed at the poor.
In Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. The book is full of heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories, from a woman in Indiana whose benefits are literally cut off as she lays dying to a family in Pennsylvania in daily fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.
The U.S. has always used its most cutting-edge science and technology to contain, investigate, discipline and punish the destitute. Like the county poorhouse and scientific charity before them, digital tracking and automated decision-making hide poverty from the middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhumane choices: which families get food and which starve, who has housing and who remains homeless, and which families are broken up by the state. In the process, they weaken democracy and betray our most cherished national values.
Praise for Automating Inequality
"This is the single most important book about technology you will read this year. Today, everyone is worrying about the Internet’s impact on democracy, but Eubanks shows that the problems facing us run much deeper than “fake news”―automated systems entrench social and economic inequality by design and undermine private and public welfare. Eubanks dives into history and reports from the trenches, helping us better understand the political and digital forces we are up against so we can effectively fight back." ―Astra Taylor, author of The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age
"Income inequality relies on the lie of the neutrality of efficiency over the value of our common humanity. Automating Inequality exposes the deadly consequences of this plan and suggests another path. That Virginia Eubanks is our guide―a person so capable, ethical, and whipsmart―is a rare combination indeed." ―Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
"This book is downright scary―but with its striking research and moving, indelible portraits of life in the 'digital poorhouse,' you will emerge smarter and more empowered to demand justice." ―Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough and This Changes Everything